NCAA Justified in Sending Clear Signal on Penn State
All adults are responsible for reporting evidence of child sexual abuse.
The penalties levied by the NCAA earlier this week against Penn State University and its storied football program were both harsh and entirely justified.
The recent jury trial established that for over a decade, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky terrorized young boys in the State College community and beyond. Some of the abuse occurred while the coach was under the university's employ. Later on, in more recent years, the former coach used school facilities and his special access to the school both to carry out his crimes and groom new victims.
Meanwhile, head football coach Joe Paterno and senior university officials, by several accounts, knew of allegations against Sandusky as early as 1998 and failed to take action to stop him. Instead, they kept the allegations under wraps and later rewarded Sandusky, who was himself a famous and respected assistant coach, with a generous retirement package. According to an independent report commissioned by the university, Paterno and the others appeared to have been motivated by a desire to spare the school negative publicity.
Reacting to the above reports, the governing body of big-time college sports fined the school $60 million, reduced its football scholarships and suspended the team from postseason play for four seasons. Perhaps most tellingly, the NCAA vacated all of the school's football victories since 1998. The latter move cost Paterno his top spot atop the all-time leader board for wins.
These harsh punishments fit the crime.
It goes without saying that all adults bare responsibility for reporting to authorities evidence of child sexual abuse. Children are a special category of victim. They almost never report abuse themselves. And it strains credulity to think that Paterno and school officials did not know that Sandusky was possibly engaging in abuse. The assistant coach was constantly in the company of young boys, was observed by several witnesses showering with young boys and was seen in compromising positions with young boys on school property. Even if the head coach and school officials did not witness these things themselves, they owed the young kids a duty to inform law enforcement of the allegations.
Young athletes are especially vulnerable to abuse. And young athletes with troubled backgrounds, such as those Sandusky recruited into his program, The Second Mile, an organization he founded in 1977 to "provide help and hope" to young children needing foster care, are even more vulnerable to the overtures of someone like Sandusky, a man that had, thanks to the university, the ability to bring kids onto the football field, take them to games and provide them access to workout facilities. Indeed, it appears that as recently as 2011, some 13 years after the university first learned of allegations against the coach, Sandusky still maintained an office of sorts on university property.
The NCAA was justified in sending a clear signal to Penn State, and its other member schools, that allegations of child sexual abuse against even the most well connected athletic officials must be reported and thoroughly investigated.
While some critics in recent days have suggested that the NCAA should have gone further and wiped out the football program entirely, no reasonable person can deny that the sanctions are significant in scope. Hopefully the punishments levied against Penn State will encourage officials at all NCAA schools to take measures to make sure something like this never happens again.